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Assessing the SPL season

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Jim Spence | 17:30 UK time, Monday, 16 May 2011

Rangers' SPL title win at Kilmarnock means the Old Firm have now won Scottish football's top prize between them for the 26th season in a row.

It was to be expected that one of the Glasgow giants, with their overwhelming finacial superiority, would triumph again this season.

But how do you feel the rest of the clubs have fared this season? Have they exceeded their fans' wildest dreams, lived up to their potential or fallen far short of what was hoped for and expected?

Aberdeen striker Chris Maguire is closed down by Hibernian defenders David Wotherspoon and Paul Hanlon

Aberdeen and Hibernian both finished in the SPL's bottom six. Photo: SNS.

It's definitely not a case of judging achievement on the basis of the size of the clubs this season.

Hearts' third place finish could be expected for a club of their stature and financial muscle, but was still a big improvement on last season's sixth place, when 16 games were lost.

And despite yesterday's last day defeat at Tannadice there are some very good youngsters emerging at Tynecastle.

Peter Houston in his second season in charge at Dundee United will be very pleased with a fourth-place finish even although next season will be tough, with almost his entire midfield leaving the club and United needing to sell players to balance the books.

Kilmarnock's improvement has been startling and it's little wonder that Mixu Paateleinen was rewarded with manager of the year and the Finland job for his efforts.

From second-bottom last season to finishing fifth this term, it has been a remarkable achievement and shows what can be done with positive management skills.

That said, their end of season run without a win in eight games will alarm chairman Michael Johnson and the Rugby Park faiththful.

Motherwell too can be satisfied that a mid-season change of management didn't throw them off course. A Scottish cup final place and a sixth-place finish in the SPL is testimony to the potential at Fir Park.

They too have suffered a late fall off in form, but with a top-six finish secured and one eye on Hampden glory, that is perhaps understandable.

It's the bottom half of the table which I find fascinating though.

While Inverness celebrated an instant return from the first division with a terrific seventh place finish and St Johnstone have looked safe from any relegation scrap all season, to end up eigth, it's the fate of two of Scotland's biggest and proudest clubs which is really alarming.

For Aberdeen and Hibernian to finish ninth and tenth respectively is a big worry not just for the fans of the two clubs, but also for the Scottish game.

The Dons changed management in mid-stream with Craig Brown and Archie Knox relieving Mark McGhee.

They have done well to keep them in the SPL, given at one stage there was a real concern that Aberdeen could do what they've never done before - be relegated.

Consecutive ninth-place finishes suggest that, unless cash can be found to strengthen for next season, the Dons will have to run with a very young and inexperienced squad.

With crowds falling markedly and a new stadium on the horizon, the air of gloom among Aberdeen fans is palpable.

Hibs' position is also a major concern. Finishing in fourth last season, with five fewer wins and with 19 less goals scored this campaign, their fall from grace to 10th has been dramatic.

Shifting as many season tickets for the next campaign as they did for this one may prove difficult, until the Hibs fans see the extent of the board's ambition with some exciting new signings.

Danny Lennon at St Mirren has done what he set out to do, keep them in the SPL, albeit finishing the season one point poorer than in their last whirl.

But after his first season in charge at SPL level, he will be better prepared to cope with next season's demands.

Hamilton drop out this season. Last season's excellent seventh place could not be matched this time around and four wins in 38 games tells its own tale.

With fewer resources than any other club, Accies could not continue to rely on producing young talent to keep them afloat in such an unforgiving environment.

But it is Aberdeen and Hibs who are the real tales of woe. The Dons are potentially the third or fourth biggest club in Scotland with Hibs fifth biggest.

The potential of both in terms of support and finance should put them well ahead of Dundee United, Motherwell and Kilmarnock. Both great clubs appear to be at a crossroads.

There is good young talent at each, but a solid backdrop of experienced pros is needed for both clubs to achieve what the fans will demand of them.

If you're a fan of an SPL club how happy are you with the best of the rest as this season ends?


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Jim,
    As a Dundee United fan, I never thought we'd have as good a season as last season so I'm happy with fourth spot although I wish we could have held on to the cup.... For next season though given the departures of most of our midfield plus further pressure on the budget, I think we'd be doing well to get into the top 6, it really depends on who we sign on the off season - I suspect it will be through free transfers and I can see us selling Goodwillie to balance the books and maybe sign someone else on.

  • Comment number 2.

    Rangers and Celtic performed to expectations, but the gap between them and the rest of the SPL was huge.

    The big test will be Europe, not only for the OF, but the others

    Inverness CT performed above expectations for a club with sparce support

    Biggest disappointment was the performance of Hearts and Hibs they were not a serious threat to the OF

  • Comment number 3.

    As an Aberdeen fan, I feel that next season things can only get worse unless we can get in a couple more experienced players to bring the youngsters through around. Hartley performed this role well when he wasn't injured but without him and with Young being released in the summer I can't see us having that next season, especially when we will not be guaranteed a top six finish next year. This means that we will either have to spend a reasonable amount of money or (and this is the more likely route with our current board) rely even more heavily on the Chris Maguires and Zander Diamonds of our squad, if they stay. This all seems to lead to a rather dismal projection for the upcoming season, unfortunately. We have spent too much cash on moving to a new stadium, away form the fans. Oh, there is one positive. Milne will be able to build more houses on the site where Pittodrie was. Brilliant.

  • Comment number 4.

    You are right to focus on Hibs as having been disappointing this season Jim. Your excellent interview with Calderwood on Saturday hit the nail on the head. Is Calderwood's heart really in it ? He gave you the expected answer but I remain unconvinced. Did he convince you ?

    Imagine the scenario should Hughton get the West Ham job, or any other decent post for that matter, the chances are he would come calling for his No.2. Would Calderwood say no ? Not sure.

    Certainly Hibs need to improve the quality and reduce the quantity of the squad. Much more importantly we need a settled management team that are visibly 100 % committed to Hibs' future. The board must make this their first priority.

    Failure to do so will reduce any chance of filling that fine stadium.

  • Comment number 5.

    As a St Johnstone fan the biggest disappointment of the season has to be the lack of goals scored by our players this season. To only score 23 goals but some how get 44 points (1.9 points per goal) shows how well the defence and keeper played but our gates are down 18% this season which shows the fans are not being entertained. 8th place is about where we should and the cup runs kept the season going.
    I hope McIness gets this sorted in the summer and maybe we can get past a cup semi final and hopefully at least challenge for a top six place next season.

    I will be interested to see how ICT do next season if Rooney leaves and if Kilmarnock stick with Shiels I would expect them to be relegated. Motherwell have been a strange team this season, its like they have 2 teams and you never know whether you are going to play the good or the poor Motherwell and there does not seem to be any average performances with them.

  • Comment number 6.

    The Good
    Improved style of football; 5 players (Izzy, Kayal, Ledley, Ki and Hooper)

    The Bad
    No European football and with more probably to follow; loss of a league to a team playing in Europe with a diminished squad who sold their top scorer in January; paying around £5m for players that no one ever sees (Juarez) and one just not worth his fee (Daryl Murphy); didn’t win the most critical games when they had the chance to do so. Bottled it. Arsenal do this as well and they play pretty football too.

    The Embarrassing
    The ‘honest mistakes’ campaign and the return of rampant paranoia playing to the gallery with the club too readily returning to this soap opera theme almost every year they struggle in the league; too many players in papers talking about how good they were (‘Barcelona’, the ‘Invincibles’); the manager in the papers almost every day since April 2010 on some subject or other.

    Best Comic Moments
    Samaras at any time and Samaras getting a new contract; Glenda Loovens defending; Freddie ‘wages without games’ Ljunberg. I would have included Kirk Broadfoot in this category as well but thankfully we didn't buy him!

    Big squad size and wage bill. Will have to shed players and cut costs because they failed in their primary objective to win the league; lack of physicality up front; tactics lacking at crucial times; what will happen when any team stands up and attacks them.

    This horrible season will spill into the next one.

  • Comment number 7.

    @ Rob04 - you forgot to mention in your "The Good" paragraph that this season Celtic didn't get pumped 4-0 by the mighty St Miren.

  • Comment number 8.

    Jim, Hi from a Hearts fan. As a disillusioned fan of Scottish football in general at the moment its a bit of a dour assessment I'm afraid. At the moment almost all the Clubs are underperforming in one way or another or in some cases in all ways. My Club is in there too, although I am heartened by the excellent youth coming through the ranks as witnessed on Sunday. Aberdeen and Hibs in particular is a strange one because they both have a great potential support behind them waiting for things to happen, but for now you just wonder where the resurgence is going to come from, they just can't seem to get the mix of experienced and young players right and keep stumbling over themselves trying to climb the table, a shame really because Scottish football is in a right state and a strong run from these two and others would liven up the game, as well as attendances.
    St. Johnstone had a decent season I thought and played some good football at times early in the season, credit to Derek McInnes, and Terry Butcher and his Inverness squad were possibly the best performers over the season considering their resources (outwith the Old Firm) and where they finished. Dundee Utd. had another good one but will lose a lot of their best players, they were a bit unlucky with so many games postponed although they did have a good go at winning them all. Motherwell as someone else said were so Jekyll and Hyde although they played some good football at times. I'm sure Stuart McCall will do better with more experience if he can keep most of his squad. Kilmarnock had a great season considering where they were last term, but now Mixu has left who knows what for next season? St. Mirren are where they are and I feel they and Hamilton will always be fighting the drop because of poor financial clout and attendances. There is no doubt though the general standard is poor in our game and its not just the football as we have seen in recent times.
    I myself am really questioning whether to go back next season after the shameful night at Tynecastle against Celtic last week, How low can our game get? Apart from the main headlines we all know about, some of the other stuff, sectarian behaviour at its rampant best again from both sides and refereeing standards just confounding me week in week out up here. The authorities show no sign whatsoever about tackling the real problems in our game so it is bad enough the football is less appealing but Scottish football is in a car crash and about to cross over the central reservation if action is not taken. A lot of Clubs have promising youth coming through but who could blame them if they disappear over the border at the first opportunity for a more peaceful and richer life?
    As for the Old Firm, I got tired of seeing any one of the two winning the league a long time ago and its just boring, I will never see another Scottish Club win our league again in my lifetime and suspect most fans feel the same. How can we change it? We can't!

  • Comment number 9.

    Bummer I forgot about that! It was almost ICT's turn though a week or two ago!

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Jim, really enjoy reading your blogs. I find it refreshing you focus on non-old firm subjects.

    I couldn't agree more with what Talisker21 (#8) has said. Scottish football is now on its last legs I fear. After the shame of Tynecastle a couple of weeks ago, that to me was the final straw. I am a Hibs fan, and honestly take no delight in what that idiot done.

    For me, the problem doesn't lie with the players, coaches or managers, it lies with the boards and chairmen. My reason for thinking this. At one point this season it was reported that Hibs had 14 players (could be more or less) out of contract in the summer. I think anyone who watched this could see the effect it had on us. We had a whole first team who didn't care and didn't want to be there. So to come back to my point, how anybody at board level can let that situation manifest itself shows a lack of planning. And I think this is evident in many other aspects of our game. As clubs and as a city, the Edinburgh clubs are delighted with 3rd. It's that view that means players really don't believe they can compete with the OF. It will take another Alex Ferguson or Jim McLean to reverse this and lets be honest, that's a long way off. Our bored shows all the problems I've tried to highlight, build a bigger stadium on the basis of a good footballing team, but sell all the players. Result, rubbish football to watch and poor crowds. And then finally we get to the point that the powers in charge agree we need change and we are talking about going back to a 10 team league. Which I think has been rejected by 90% of fans but yet, they are trying to push it through. We must have the only people in charge of a brand that doesn't listen to its "customers". If we do go back to 10 teams, I for one will wash my hands of Scottish football, because the money men have sold the league off for a quick buck rather than sort out the serious problems of creating a competitive league.

    I’ll stop now, as I could go on for hours about the state of the game in this country, to me it’s just common sense, but for some reason our “leaders” don’t have any.

  • Comment number 11.

    Aberdeen along with the other 9 clubs in the spl outside the old firm are at best the equivalent of an english league 1 or 2 team in standard, commercial interest and fan base. So when I put it like that its no surprise we get beaten regularly by the two teams that we all love to beat.

    If I keep on saying this to myself I'll be able to go back to pittodrie and accept the results easier. Reality bites.

    We cannot compete with Rangers and Celtic and have not been able to so for yonks. They are at best, bottom of the table epl teams and if they had to play regularly there they would struggle to stay out of the championship. But we are far worse than that.

    We need to get this into our heads so that our expectations are not the same as when they were 30 years ago. The game has changed light years since then and me and a lot of other fans like me need to change our perception of where aberdeen is in the equation. We may be in the same league as them but in name only. If it was in england we would only play them in the cups.

    So the next time we get humped by Celtic, expect it as they expect to hump us and our players clearly this year, have expected it too. The same for the other teams around us, I'll be amazed if the Cup Final isn't won by at least a 4 goal margin.

  • Comment number 12.


    Lots of silly comparisons with the Greed League. The Scottish TV deal generates £65m, the English one generates around £590m. I'll let you do the math in terms of what quality that buys you. And by the way, the vast majority of English clubs don't even make a profit even with these monies but are saddled with huge amounts of debt. And how many of these EPL clubs have a realistic chance of winning the title in any one season?

    Its not the results against the OF that are killing you though the 9-0 was comical. You can't even beat your peers or smaller clubs on a regular basis. Its the fact that you are the 4th biggest team in the SPL, can pull in a big support home and away yet finished again in the bottom 6 and again changed your management team this season. AFC perform below even moderate expectations and that has got absolutely nothing to do with the OF: only the way your club has been managed over the years.

    I also think you lump Motherwell in with your own frustration. On the day as they showed earlier in the season they can beat Celtic.

  • Comment number 13.


    Well said. I too am getting tired and weary of comparisons with other nations. At the risk of repeating myself I remember when Sky was a blue thing overhead. Any non-OF success comfortably predates satellite television.

    We all know the financial realities. Sides outwith the OF need to get on with it. Stop accepting that money is the be all and end all. Hibs players, I think, are on about three grand a week. Wish to hell that I was ! Get stuck in. You're not starving and are working.

    Of course Motherwell have a chance on Saturday Rob. Think it will be you're lot though.

  • Comment number 14.

    Spot on, BaldyHibby.

  • Comment number 15.

    Well it's pretty obvious where my team (Hibs) has it's problems.

    Board level - Any money brought in is reduced by a quarter in outgoings
    Manager - They seemed to persevere with no good players, CC has apparently changed this
    Goalkeepers - Daniel Andersson was the last good consistent one, maybe Stack would have been if not for an assault on him
    Defence - No communication, youth players not trusted until the end of season in spite of them being better than others
    Midfield - John Rankin & Kevin McBride have been seen as good enough in the past finally they have gone
    Strikers - Only one in the past scored but Akpo seems to be adding that to his game and finally scourge of the ground Nish is gone.

    Hopefully next season will herald a change and the first team will look like
    GK - Stack
    LB - Booth
    CB - Hanlon
    CB - Murray
    RB - S. Smith
    DM - Palsson
    CM - Scott
    CM - Wotherspoon
    LW - Galbraith
    RW - Sproule
    ST - Sodje

    SG - Brown
    SD - Dickoh
    SD - Taggart
    SM - Stevenson
    SM - Thornhill
    SS - Vaz Te
    SS -

    Others - Stephens, Horner, Welsh, Forster, Handling

    Personally the second striker bench space would go to Kurtis Byrne but since he's offski, and I don't believe Vaz Te has done enough to push out Galbraith and Sproule.

  • Comment number 16.

    "[Motherwell] too have suffered a late fall off in form, but with a top-six finish secured and one eye on Hampden glory, that is perhaps understandable."

    More specifically, they've put half their reserve team on the park for most of their post-split games. Risky tactic, as it's resulted in some heavy defeats. They might be meaningless in league terms, but it means the first picks are out of the habit of playing together and winning together in the run up to what is now their only chance of European qualification.

  • Comment number 17.

    I have reached a state where I can no longer justify to myself over paying massively every week to go and see a terrible product. It's as simple as that.

    As much as it saddens me to say it, I am losing my interest in the SPL in it's current format more and more.

    I doubt I am alone.

  • Comment number 18.

    As a Hamilton fan I can't say that I've enjoyed much about the season just gone, but rather I look back at what we've achieved in a mere 10 years. From the 3rd Division to 7th in the SPL and having done so without accumulating any debt. Accies should be held up as the example of how to progress a small club, but I fear that people still would prefer to see another "Living the dream" Gretna nonsense instead.
    Scottish football is totally stagnant at the moment and until the OF leave I can't see that any form of change will alter the game in any dramatic way.

    So long and thanks for all the fish!

  • Comment number 19.

    Right folks, too much negativity here. It's not been the best season I can remember but there have been some bright spots.

    ICT have been most times I've seen them, full of energy and bright attacking football. Killie earlier in the season were a joy to watch with a great flowing passing game, and United on form were still a match for anyone with very fluent midfield.

    But agree with those of you saying that the game needs leadership now like never before.

    The Old Firm are still the elephant in the room. It's not their fault, but they've become so big that they have completely distorted the notion of meaningful competition.

    How Scottish football deals with that issue could make or break it in the years to come. I know what I would do but that is for another blog another day.

  • Comment number 20.

    Jeez Jim,

    Defecate or get off the pot. Never had you down as a tease.

  • Comment number 21.

    20 Ha Ha Baldy Hibby I'll put you out of your misery soon

  • Comment number 22.

    Rangers and Celtic dominated a weak SPL, however their UEFA ranking has dropped to a pityful 40th and 57th.Playing weak teams, week in week out in the SPL highlights how other teams in Europe have now overtaken them.

    Inverness CT have performed well considering they operate on peanuts

    Hearts and Hibs are pitiful

    Aberdeen are laughable now compared to the glory years 25 years ago

  • Comment number 23.

    The Prophet of Doom award for 2010/2011 goes to tomslaford. How utterly boring and depressing. Thank god it's the end of the world tomorrow...

  • Comment number 24.

    Jim the 'elephant in the room' is never the OF for those who use them as an excuse for the performance of their own team. But you are absolutely right in highlighting the early performance of Killie in particular as a bright spot. DUtd seemed to come onto a game late in the season this year - possibly because of all the injuries - but have a number of very decent young players (Russel and Swanson) who should compensate for the inevitable loss of Goodwillie.

    'Prophet of Doom' is not the title I'd have chosen for a poster so lacking in any humour about his wind up's which are so repetitive it makes watching paint dry look interesting. He would win my 'Human Goldfish of the Year' Award

  • Comment number 25.

    As an Aberdeen fan what do I think of the season just past well to assess my own team first yes a very frustrating season as I really thought that McGhee was a good appointment and then we signed Paul Hartley and had Scott Vernon banging in a few goals I thought we would do well. However got to say McGhee and Aberdeen just wasn't a good fit together for whatever reason. If he had stayed I honestly believe we would have been relegated this season. So all in all while it has been a poor season we also had a lucky escape. However the hard work starts hear I think we now have a good fit with our current management team but they do need to get a couple of really good experienced players to guide the youngsters next season and to get the fans excited. As the biggest problem facing the Dons is fans apathy. Which has led to sharp fall in attendance and I feel the board are not doing enough to engage the fans. However I have faith in Craig & Archie and feel they will put together a better team for next year however it will take time.

    As for the rest as you say Killie first half of the season great but having lost Mixu need to make a good appointment or else will struggle next year. Dundee Utd great second half of the season probably due to injuries but are now losing a chunk of there squad so need to replace well or could struggle. Think Motherwell have had a good season and have suprised me but well done them. Also got to applaude Butcher at ITC great job and glad to have them back in the top flight. Hearts promised so much but are always likely to implode with there owner in charge.

    Well after that war & peace would just like to conclude it is the TV which is killing the scottish game and as you say what Scottish football needs to do to improve the game is for another day. But TV is the main reason for dwindling attendances so much live games and all the best leagues in the world. Means more people stay at home cause of cost and better football. Not only this but we are losing the next generation of fans as they are all growing up supporting Chelsea, Man Utd & Arsenal etc wearing there strips this is probably the biggest issue Scottish football has to address. Come on u reds for next season.

    Really think Killie early season form and Motherwell have performed fantastic this season.

  • Comment number 26.

    Bit harsh on goldfish there Rob. tomslaver is much less interesting.


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